SACRAMENTO – It’s going to be a crazy season in the NBA. And not just because the Western Conference is loaded with very good teams.
Basketball is changing rapidly and it was easy to see it over the last two Portland Trail Blazer games.
The Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings Friday night 122-112 and did so with a solid effort from several players. And while Portland made 54.1 percent of its shots from the field and the Kings hit only 42.5 percent, Sacramento stayed close or even led during the first half and part of the second by hitting three-point field goals.
Portland struggled from three in its opener, hitting only 7-28, while Denver won that game by knocking down 18-32.
Friday, the Blazers did better, hitting 11 of 30 while Sacramento was 15-37.
But just so you know, the Nuggets opened their home season Friday by edging lowly Phoenix by a single point in overtime. And Denver made only seven of its 27 three-pointers.
That folks, is what they mean when they say the NBA is a “make-or-miss league.”
The three-point field goal is often an inconsistent shot, which is going to make for some inconsistent outcomes.
But the Trail Blazers can hedge those results a little bit with their inside game, which many other NBA teams have forsaken.
Hassan Whiteside made his name in the league as a defender but so far, and its only two games, he’s been a terrific addition at the low post. He was 9-10 from the field and 4-6 from the foul line in just 26:19 against the Kings, scoring 22 points to go with nine rebounds, a block and a steal. That made him 15-17 from the field overall, with a total of 28 rebounds.
“Them guys were just finding me,” he said afterward. “Making my job easier. I was trying to just emphasize holding those screens. Those guys were just ‘diming' me up. I was just trying to finish to the best of my abilities.
“Being out there with them guys means a lot.”
It was also the first time as a teammate Whiteside has witnessed Damian Lillard closing a game out, which he did with some outside bombs.
“I already knew what time it was,” Whiteside said. “Did you know what time it was? I think we all knew what time it was.”
Whiteside converted a terrific lob from Kent Bazemore into a dunk and was fouled in the third quarter.
“That was a Carolina connection,” he said. “You put it anywhere around the rim and I’m going to get it and I don’t care who’s under it.”
Whiteside is a player you can have some fun with, for sure. Does he expect to miss just one shot per game all season?
“Playing with playmakers like that, they just make it easy,” he said. “I think when we get used to throwing the lobs, it’s going to go up even more. Probably 10 or 20 games in, you’re going to see more. I feel like if I’ve got two feet in the paint, I don’t know what the statistics are, but I feel like it’s gotta be high.”
He was asked about Anfernee Simons coming off the bench for 15 points, hitting three of his six three-point attempts.
“Man, he just comes in with that second unit and delivers like Walmart, Fedex and Amazon,” Whiteside said. “He just delivers. I love it, man.”
Lillard was his usual dependable self, hitting 12 of his 20 shots, scoring 35 points with five rebounds, five assists and three steals. He got plenty of help from Bazemore, who was brilliant off the bench with his defense, shooting, passing and rebounding.
“That was a really challenging game,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “Sacramento plays a style that’s really tough to guard. They push the tempo, they shoot threes, they played small lineups.”
And about that three-point defense…?
“It’s going to be an emphasis all year,” Stotts said. “I mean, every team shoots threes – that’s the reality. We just didn’t communicate well at times.”